Grief and divorce

 By Sherry Russell

A rabid animal will inject teeth marks on everything in its path except itself. Unfortunately, divorce seems to infect one spouse or both with the rabies. This aggressive behavior hurts other people including those not in the direct path of the fury. The open ferociousness further damages an already broken relationship. Some people will use aggression to achieve their goal without thinking about the ramifications or the irrationality creating grief for all involved.

We have all experienced crucial moments in our life when a decision had to be made. One moment things are content and then in a crack of a whip life redefines itself. A new door starts to open requiring a creation of a new normal. A normal that will not include living with your spouse. Yet, the history of the relationship may have produced children, blurred family lines (making his family hers and her family his), and a shared cultivation of friendships. Even though none of these people are listed on the “who verses who” in the actual divorce, they are disturbed and entangled with the emotional carousel.

Sometimes divorce is the only answer to an otherwise difficult situation. When it is, it brings with it many grief issues. Divorce is all about redefining everything in your life. It makes you question who you are now, what did your choice in partners mean about you, what are you going to do with your future and how are you going to do it. To complicate matters, when children are involved there has to be a way of continuing some sort of agreed upon relationship with the ex-spouse no matter how difficult that may be. It is impossible to close the door between you and an ex-spouse when you have children that need the support and love of both parents. A parent can’t help but worry about being an efficient parent when you no longer share the same home with the children on a full time basis. The way you parented now also becomes redefined.

It seems that as rational human beings we could talk out differences and commit to paper a reasonable expectation of what should happen from that point forward. But, life isn’t made for predictability. Unfortunately, our emotions may twist and turn us in so many ways that we don’t know which end is up. There are times when it is hard enough to tolerate ourselves much less ask someone else to tolerate us and at the same time give us the benefit of compassionate understanding.

Many people have told me they never considered grief as part of divorce simply because there isn’t a physical body to mourn. However, there are many issues to mourn in divorce. Grief is about loss and divorce is an abundance of loss. Loss of the way life was forces reorganizing to begin life anew which can be a mental overload bringing along with it feelings of shock and numbness. Moving from one side to the other requires working through the complications and coming to terms so you can leave the trauma of the divorce in the past. Divorce has grief issues that require grief work and need to be resolved. In divorce a person loses a partner, trust, companionship and routine.

In order to move forward you have to deal with what the reality is now. To accomplish this you will find it easier if you allow yourself to feel your pain. You can’t keep putting it off because it will only build up. You can’t ignore it for it will seep into all areas of your life and tumble into all the relationships in your life. It may reveal itself as stone cold anger but it is pain coated in fear.    I’m convinced you can drown in grief if you decide to do so but it will make you a very unhappy, difficult person for others to deal with. The bad thing about divorce is when the ex-spouse determines to become their own evil twin; you can’t walk away when you have matters that need taming. Just as when you lose a loved one, you have to gain perspective about the relationship as a whole while moving on to understanding yourself and other relationships.

With divorce comes anger. When a person marries, they don’t start preparing for divorce. People marry with hope and trust that they will be living their life with another person who shares their same goals and values. Married people are supposed to be secure in knowing who will be there for them in good times and bad times. They don’t expect that an argument over the curtains don’t match the bedspread to be the beginning of the end. It is said that it takes two years for a bad marriage to finally crumble. That shows that people don’t rush into divorce. It tells me that people weigh the decision with a lot of thought and finally move to task. Yet, if this is true, then why do so many people become ogres ready to gorge down on the other spouse’s juggler? Dealing with an irrational person is like having a mouth full of sour milk. You are afraid to spit it out for fear of reaction and you are afraid to swallow it for you know it will make you sick.

It is hard not to defend yourself yet defensive measures may only succeed in pulling you into the spider web of mental games. You can’t make rational sense out of something that is irrational so don’t allow yourself to become derailed from your focus on pulling your life back together.

Pick up the pieces with positive talk and focus on what the overall relationship meant. Looking at the good, the bad and the indifferent that existed in the relationship will help you balance what is happening. Just as when you lose a loved one to death, in order to work beyond guilt and anger you have to look at the entire relationship not concentrate on the last days.

Give yourself time to get used to the idea that your life has changed. It is OK to grieve the life that was even if it wasn’t the ideal situation. It was how you lived your life everyday and to shut the door on it not only forces you to rebuild your life but it forces you to deal with your inner self.

Don’t let an aggressive ex-spouse snatch your dreams by keeping you in a star-burst mental fight. No sooner do you settle one thing than it becomes unsettled sparking more confusion. By forgiving yourself for the failed relationship, you will be able to let go. When this happens you will be able to allow someone, such as a lawyer, to define boundaries and take care of problems leaving you free to control what you can about your new life. You may think you are on the road to divorce recovery but if you can’t surrender the relationship to your lawyer, you are keeping yourself in the fight. That is part of the grief experience – knowing when to let go. Once you have moved into accepting the changes, even if you are the one who determined this road to be the best, the easier you will turn the irrational aggressive spouse over to someone else to handle.

Do watch out for revenge for it may actually be sweet according to brain scans. Brain scans in a research study showed that planning revenge may ignite enough satisfaction to motivate getting even and the mount of satisfaction actually predicts who will go to greater lengths to do so. Swiss researchers monitored people’s brain activity during an elaborate game of double cross. Their study illustrates that instead of cold calculated reason, it is passion that may plant the seeds of revenge.

Finding a way to express anger takes a bit of practice. The best way to start is to take some deep breaths. It does help to calm you down. If that doesn’t help, excuse yourself and take a walk. Try not to discuss anything while you feel like exploding. Understand that fear and anger are a natural part of change and transition which again is loss which again will be grieved.

Divorce is an event of loss. It is natural to react with physical, emotional and spiritual grief responses. There are social and secondary losses in divorce. You are no longer part of the couple and both will lose friends and both will lose family and one or both will lose the place they called home. Many people don’t recognize the loss divorce brings and people going through the change of divorce do not get the social acknowledgement in regards to their loss. Usually a person doesn’t wear the pain of their divorce outwardly. Most carry it inward but it is there even if the divorce is a boulder taken off your shoulders. It takes time to sort out how your life will change and it takes time to create a new life and it takes time to weave in the old life and it take time to confront the reality of it all. All of this is grief work.

Just as women and men deal with the death of a loved one differently, women and men approach divorce grief differently. We each have different variables that make us unique. The way we perceive and evaluate information is different. We may agree we both see a child sitting on a hill eating a candy bar but our interpretations may very well be different.

Whenever there is monumental amounts of hurt, there will be reactions. The more we understand that divorce is a life loss and deserves grief work to successfully go on to a new life, the more respect we may be able to bestow on one another in such a crucial time.

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Still grieving? Find out with the Fisher Divorce Adjustment Scale at


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